With friends and family gathered at Dubray Middle School, the call was sent out over the intercom: “Mrs. Fenske, please come to the office.”
As she entered the school’s lobby on the way from her classroom to the office, she was greeted by cheers and applause. The socially distanced crowd held balloons and signs.
“What is this?” It was more of an exclamation than a question – an expression of confusion and shock.
“What’s happening?” she asked. That’s when she was told, “You’ve been selected as Mid Rivers Newsmagazine’s Teacher of the Year.”
Katheryn Fenske is the band director at Dubray Middle, a position she has held for four years. She’s taught music for 32 years – and her students love her.
“There are so many things that Kathy has done for our family and the School District,” parent Chrystal Williams wrote in her nomination letter. “She is the band director at Dubray Middle School, but she doesn’t stop there. She also helps the Fort Zumwalt East High School marching and concert bands. On Tuesdays, after school, she runs the jazz band at Dubray for children wanting more musical experience. She has the patience of a saint.”
Williams wrote that Fenske has taken “my oldest son under her wing and helps him prepare for competitions.”
In fact, on the same afternoon as her award presentation, Fenske was helping Williams’ son prepare for a state competition. He plays clarinet in the Fort Zumwalt East Lion Pride Band.
Fenske is happy to help. She said she became a teacher because she wanted to inspire young people to love music with a passion.
“I think music is one of the most beautiful things we have in this world, and I wanted to teach them so that they would have that in their lives. I was inspired by a music teacher when I was in middle school,” she said.
Now, she says one of her greatest joys is when a past student reaches out to let her know she inspired them to become a music teacher.
She says some of her favorite memories are “when a student calls me and tells me they played their clarinet for their grandma over the phone, or when I see their eyes light up the first time they make a melody sound like music.”
During her career, she has taught students of all ages from preschool to college. She even taught for a time at the St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf, preschool through eighth grade.
“My daughter is deaf. That’s why we moved to St. Louis, so she could attend St. Joseph’s Institute,” Fenske explained. “Most of the students who attend there are profoundly deaf. They wear hearing aids and cochlear implants, but most of those were not good enough for music. I felt like all of these kids were in danger of going through life missing out on this beautiful thing. So, we just decided that we were going to sing and dance and make music and put on musicals – all those things. My students loved music!”
The thrill of taking a student from knowing nothing about an instrument to making music never gets old.
“At the beginning of the school year, I tell the parents of new students, ‘By December, we’ll be making music I promise,’” Fenske said.
She says, so far, she’s been able to keep her promise.
“She is so great at what she does and truly loves her students,” Williams wrote. “You are a fortunate person if you have her as a teacher in your life.”
Through Access the Arts at Stages St. Louis, she has helped people with disabilities experience music, but her accomplishments don’t end with teaching. Fenske is also a published composer and arranger. Additionally, she is a member of the American School Band Directors Association, Missouri Music Educators Association, Missouri Bandmasters Association, NAfME, Phi Betta Kappa Society and Pi Kappa Lambda Society. Previously, she was named an Independent Schools of Saint Louis Teacher of Distinction and received the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Crystal Apple Award.
In recognition of being chosen Mid Rivers Teacher of the Year, Fenske received a new iPad and gift certificates courtesy of the newsmagazine and its Excellence in Education sponsors: Busey Bank-O’Fallon, Beseda Flooring & More, Dream Play Recreation and Fritz’s Frozen Custard.
“I’m honored beyond words,” Fenske said.